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Author Brian Blanchfield writes what he knows in 'Proxies'

Image of the author Brian Blanchfield
Provided by Brian Blanchfield
Brian Blanchfield

Award-winning poet and essayist Brian Blanchfield gave himself a strange set of requirements for his new book "Proxies: Essays Near Knowing" – write essays purely from memory. Do not check book titles or apartment locations. Stay away from Google.  Fact check nothing – at least until the end.

“I had this urge to say what I knew, and by that I mean, not only what I knew as a ‘queer intellectual poet’ but also as the son of a Primitive Baptist and a truck driver, and also as this professor without an office, as an adjunct who’s been absorbed and expelled from academia a number of times over the years,” said Blanchfield.

The author is in town Monday night to read at Left Bank Books in support of his new work, a collection of 24 essays. The book covers topics such as apartment sitting, working in and out of academia and the author’s own personal narrative as a writer who grew up in a working-class family in North Carolina. 

The book belongs to a new cadre of texts reinterpreting the essay form and personal narratives. Maggie Nelson’s "The Argonauts" examined queer-family making. Eileen Myles' recent publications look at growing up gay in Boston and pursuing poetry in New York. Ta-NihisiCoates' book "Between the World and Me" considers growing up black and male in America.

Like many of those authors, Blanchfield has won a number of awards. That includes the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and most recently the $50,000 Whiting Award. His most recent poetry collection was long-listed for the National Book Award for poetry. This increasingly positive reception to his work indicates the potential for much broader success.    

Blanchfield reads an excerpt from his essay on house-sitting.

For him the book was a way to reconnect with writing and a chance to flex different compositional muscles while exploring how he exists as a constellation of his various experiences.

“Maybe it was a kind of wish for integration at that point of my life,” said the author.

Blanchfield will read his work at 7 p.m. Monday at Left Bank Books, 399 North Euclid, St. Louis 63108.